Sunday, November 10, 2013

REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World (Spoiler Free)

Thor: The Dark World opened domestically this weekend to $86.1 million dollars, 24 of which came out of my pocket Friday night. Follow along after the jump to find out my take on the film and where it ranks among the MCU films.

I like to get the important stuff out of the way up front. After a couple of days of reflection on just one viewing, Thor: The Dark World was the second most enjoyable Marvel film. I'm not a polished film critic and nobody is going to see the movie or stay home based on my review anyway, so I'm not too worried about saying that. My criteria are my own and I don't expect anyone to conform to them. When I see a movie in theaters and review it, I go by the following criterion: was it fun, do I want to see it again, did it make me forget where I was and what my problems were for 2 hours or so and did my children enjoy it. I include the last one because I see a lot of movies geared towards that audience and I think that sometimes adults, like myself, forget what it was like to see things from that perspective. For example, when we watched The Avengers in theaters, my youngest daughter stood up, put her hands above her head and screamed when Hulk smashed Loki. My oldest daughter just stared with her mouth open.  That's all the reaction I needed to see to know it was an awesome idea, especially given the fact that I actually reacted the same way as both of them.  This movie did a nice job of hitting all my benchmarks for an enjoyable movie, especially a CBM. I don't expect it to win Academy Awards; I want it to entertain me.  It did, more so than quite a few other CBMs and even more than a few Marvel ones.

Following an opening sequence that gives us the necessary exposition on the films antagonist and neatly parallels that of the original Thor, Thor: The Dark World picks up neatly after the events of Thor and The Avengers. Loki is sentenced, by Odin, to the dungeons of Asgard; Thor and The Warriors Three are off cleaning up the Nine Realms, under siege by Marauders who have taken advantage of the absence of Asgardians following the destruction of the Bifrost. Beginning at this point allows the audience the feeling, however fleeting, that everything has been set right in the world. We know, however, that we wouldn't be watching a story about nothing and so it begins...

A simple, spoiler-free plot summary might sound something like this: of all the scientists on Earth, Jane Foster stumbles upon The Aether, a powerful force hidden away on Earth long ago.  Bor, grandfather of Thor and founder of Asgard was the hider. Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, and legendary comic maniac, was the character from whom it was hidden. Having become "possessed" by the Aether, Jane is swept away to Asgard, drawing the attention of Malekith to the home of the gods.  From here the main plot of story ensues and the audience is left to ponder some questions about trust, good vs. evil and what we might do for our people and our loved ones.

The majority of the film, as one might imagine, centers around the relationship between Thor and Loki.  Thor, reliant upon Loki's mischief, breaks Loki out of the dungeons and the two form an extremely tense partnership in order to right wrongs and avenge Malekith's attack on Asgard. Despite Chris Hemsworth being absolutely amazing as Thor, it's hard not to focus on Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Hiddleston has so much fun as Loki it makes you wonder if there could ever have been anyone else cast in the role. Despite everyone in the audience knowing better, it's nearly impossible not to root for Loki and hope for redemption.  While this film gives us hope that Loki finally sees the error of his ways, it's safe to say that, as expected, Loki is several steps ahead of all the other players on the board and, ultimately, ends up just where he likely wants to be.

Hemsworth deserves an extension on his contract as Thor, which, according to him, has him returning for two more films as the Thunderer. This was his best turn in the role and while much of that might be attributed to it being his third try, I believe some of it comes from the freedom to explore rangier emotions and not always be a brooding bad ass. The rest of the cast, outside of Rene Russo's Frigga, is quite inconsequential, including Christoper Eccleston and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who portray Malekith and Algrim/Kurse, the two main antagonists of the film.

The plot is less of a plot for this film and more of a part of the bigger, overarching story being told in the MCU. I find that helpful to keep in mind.  Well this film, as a standalone, works just fine, all of these films are building towards something much bigger and each of them is delivering a part of the overall exposition and rising action.  In this case there are 3 important pieces to the overall plot of the MCU: the Aether, Loki's fate and Thor's final decision. While I'm not going to disclose any of those in this review, it's pretty clear that they all set up future stories, some of which may not pay off for another 3-5 years.

Alan Taylor did a wonderful job of directing the film. His Asgard topped original director Kenneth Branagh's and his direction of Hemsworth and Hiddleston's interactions made them the highlight of the film. If I have one complaint about the film it is that too much was edited out. I don't blame this on Taylor and, I'm sure, that this had some part to play in the publicized ruffling of feathers between Taylor and Marvel.  Malekith and the Dark Elves suffered the most from the editing. Their lack of development keeps us from really exploring some key questions and prevents them from feeling really threatening, but we know that they were just more fodder for Thor and that the Aether, not Malekith, should be our main focus. It's kind of unfortunate given that Malekith can be a pretty awesome villain, but it certainly doesn't wreck the film.  Additionally, I could have gone with less of whatever the dude's name is that was Darcy's intern, but the comedy of that group played well to the general audience, likely much better than it did to comic fans. The editing of the film, not the direction, is at fault for any and all of my perceived shortcomings.

According to my very simple criteria, Thor: The Dark World is a solid movie. I had a lot of fun watching it, I want to watch it again, I was totally tuned in for the entirety of the film and didn't think about anything other than it and its place in the MCU and my daughters LOVED it.  As a counter-example, when I saw The Dark Knight Rises in theaters I looked checked the clock several times and quite honestly left the theater with no inclination to see it again. I can't say where it will fall in the final analysis, but as of right now, on one viewing, it falls right here:

1. The Avengers
2. Thor: The Dark World
3. Iron Man
4. Thor
5. Iron Man 3
6. Captain America
7. The Incredible Hulk
8. Iron Man 2

Where it will shake out upon repeated viewings is indeterminable at this point, but I know that there was quite a bit I need to take in again.  Dr. Selvig may have been teaching the crazies a lot more than we think and the mid-credit scene may well have been full of some very big secrets outside of the things in the foreground.  Time will tell.  I don't give grades: I'm a teacher. I do, however, know when I do or do not enjoy a film, and I enjoyed this quite a bit.  Thor: The Dark World was a strong effort by Marvel.  What are your thoughts fans?